Revisiting Our Required High School Reads

Back in our high school days, the faintest utterance of the word “required” could elicit a chorus of groaning audible to anyone within city limits. But today, we are a little older (you’d never know it), a little wiser and a lot more patient. Required learning is a thing of the distant past and the responsibility to expand our knowledge has become our own. Perhaps the best place to begin a current and self-imposed curriculum is by revisiting our required high school reading list.

In high school our teachers used required reading to teach us how to decipher themes and motifs, form opinions and turn them into a coherent thesis statement; but the life lessons those novels exposed are more relevant to our lives today than they were back then. A more profound understanding of these stories today can be attributed to the experience that life since high school has brought us. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “reading comprehension.”

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
It’s easy to assume one’s own innocence in love and point blame at others, but sometimes, unwittingly, we can be our own worst enemy. Many assume that heroine Elizabeth Bennett is the victim of pride and prejudice, including Elizabeth. In actuality, both her and Mr. D’arcy are guilty of pride and prejudice towards one another. The novel serves as inspiration to take a closer look at ourselves in love – perhaps we are guilty of traits we like to think we don’t possess. 

To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee
To Kill A Mockingbird reminds us how strong the power of sheer unprecedented hate and prejudice can be, and how the innocence of children can sometimes enlighten us to our own adulthood biases. Biases like status, career, appearance, wealth…

Lord of the Flies William Golding
The novel serves as a great character study on how different people (in this case, a group of marooned boys) react to independence. Some are leaders, some are followers, and some are rebellious. The characters make us ponder our own friends and family, and even coworkers. Were the opportunity to lead thrust upon the people closest to us, who would lead and who would follow? What would you do?

Death of a Salesman Arthur Miller
Willy Loman is so dedicated to the promise of the American Dream and the belief that success will be achieved no matter what if one works hard enough, but the worse things get, the more Willy clings to the promise of the Dream. Willy’s inescapable lack of independent thought is distressing; he has been fed the ideal of the American Dream and he accepts it without inquest. There’s no better promotion for independent thought and the importance of following one’s own goals than the tragic story of Willy Loman.

1984 George Orwell
An extreme look at a society under totalitarian rule where any expression of individuality is punishable by law gives us a renewed appreciation for our right to freedom and individuality. The novel also gives insight into the state of current countries that live under an authoritative regime and do not recognize the basic freedoms we take for granted.  

Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
The novel is essentially a fictional experiment examining the importance appearances carry in society and how we are treated differently based on the way we look. Published in 1891, appearances are just as, if not more important, now than then. Do those close to us alter their interactions with us based on our appearance? More importantly, do we change our behaviour based on the appearance of others? 

Beloved Toni Morrison
Sethe, tormented by her past as a former slave, can only bring herself to cope by trying to avoid her past. But as she learns, trying to forget the past not only doesn’t make it go away, it makes her past an ever present part of her life that she must try to escape. What she learns is that the only way to overcome the past is by facing it, acknowledging it and respecting that it happened.

Photo: Lord of the Flies